2006/08/01 Technology brings out resilience of lahar town
First posted 03:14am (Mla time) Aug 01, 2006
By Tonette Orejas
Editor’s Note: Published on Page A14 of the August 1, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

(【轉載按】這篇2006年8月1日刊登於菲律賓每日探查報的報導,是針對我在芝加哥的老師Kathleen Crittenden教授的行動研究所寫。多年前,凱薩琳教授到台北時,就曾提及她想藉由GIS的技術,重建一個遭逢火山爆發所淹埋的村莊,以促進當地早日恢復生機。我那時已經在進行這方面的研究,跟老師有多方討論與交流。但是,當時聽來覺得很難,除了技術層面外,主要還是美國人如何取得在地人信任的問題,雖然,她的先生Kelvin Rodolfo是具有菲律賓血統的著名美國地質學教授 。過了這麼多年,無意間找到了這篇報導,十分驚訝老師的決心與毅力,即使已經退休,她仍然堅持完成這樣的研究,並真實對一個遭逢危難社區做出真誠貢獻,亦提供我們GIS的人文社會應用無限想像空間。)

BACOLOR, PAMPANGA—Buried and dismembered by Mt. Pinatubo’s eruptions and lahar since 1991, this tiny Pampanga town has gone hi-tech in documenting how its residents have been transcending the disaster, and rebuilding their lives.

At the helm of this computer-aided documentation is an American sociologist, Dr. Kathleen Crittenden.

Crittenden, 64, and a retired professor at the University of Illinois, used the software Arc-GIS (Geographical Information System) to produce a digital map linked to hundreds of images that captured the glorious, normal and tragic years in the town.

The awakening of the volcano, located 34 km northwest, sent most of its 70,000 residents on an exodus, almost emptying the town that was a crown jewel of the Spanish colonial government, capital of the Philippines during the British Occupation, capital of Pampanga until 1904 and the province’s “Athens.”

The photographs were either contributed by residents and volcanologists or taken by Crittenden in the course of her research with Kapampangan sociologists Cora Lamug and Gloria Nelson, and marine geologist Kelvin Rodolfo following the catastrophic lahar flows in 1995.

Crittenden has lived in the town one to six months yearly to document the rebuilding process.Among Philippine communities buried by volcanic debris, Bacolor is so far the first to use this mapping technology, according to Rodolfo.

For a start, the map is of Bacolor’s capital, Cabambangan. Based on a 1916 cadastral map, Crittenden reconstructed the village’s outlines that had been erased by lahar and floods.

Dots and history

Divided into 14 sections, the map contains more than 300 dots representing the locations of houses, monuments and public structures rebuilt on top of 6.5 meters of lahar on the average.
At a click of the mouse, the dot opens to reveal how the families, the town government and the Catholic parishes lost and rebuilt the structures in stages.

The photographs, arranged in a continuum, help one see the extent of the devastation and especially, the painstaking efforts and resilience of the residents.

“Every stilted house represents a story,” Crittenden told researchers in a presentation at the Holy Angel University’s Juan D. Nepomuceno Center for Kapampangan Studies on Saturday.
Stilts, either made of wood or concrete, were what the residents used to raise what were left of their homes. Car jacks were their only tool to do this lahar-defying technique after the 1991 eruptions.
After 1995, Kapampangans in the United States sent home six large hydraulic jacks. Through these, the municipal government started a house-raising program for more than 250 houses. Elevated with space enough to let a truck pass under, the houses looked like birdhouses.

By 1999, the families who refused to leave and those who decided to return from faraway resettlement sites began building permanent homes on recycled or entirely new materials.

Mayor Romeo Dungca said not less than 5,000 families have since returned to the town.


It’s a rebuilding process largely done on local resources. Writing for the Natural Hazards Review in May 2001, Crittenden observes: “Lacking guidance, resources and other support from the national government, the municipality of Bacolor is not ready to design and construct a disaster-resistant community. Informal activities grounded in the decisions of individual families and small groups of leaders cannot replace the comprehensive and participatory planning effort needed at the municipal level.”

But to remain in the town was a tough decision for the residents to make, Crittenden said.

For one, the national government has sacrificed Bacolor to make the provincial capital, San Fernando, live. Seventeen of the town’s 21 villages were ringed by the 56-km FVR Megadike to be able to trap the lahar. Then, the residents have to live right next to a virtual dike, actually a highway raised six meters high.

“It tells of their great will to stay in their town,” Crittenden noted.
A set of photographs captured anger. In red paint, a wall facing a street screamed this protest: “Megadike sa San Fernando, Megadie sa Bacolor.”

Eventually, the message was lost as lahar, coming in yearly cycles, claimed what was left of that wall.

The documentation project, Crittenden said, would hope to cover the neighboring villages of Cabanlantian and Cabetican. Family portraits and history may be added as layers in the map, she said.
She said there’s so much to put in the map because only a tenth of a big cache of photographs has been attached. In time, the map would be put on the Internet. For the time being, it is being made available to the people of Bacolor.

Two papers—“Living with Lahars: Opportunistic Socio-Economic Uses of Natural Hazard Mitigation Structures on the Pasig-Potrero River” and “Can This Town Survive? Case Study of a Buried Philippine Town”—tell more of how Bacolor residents are rising from the disaster and these, Crittenden said, could provide tips to communities living near angry mountains.

There are 22 active volcanoes in the Philippines.
The Bacolor government has told the town’s story on the web through

The Center for Kapampangan Studies devoted one issue of its publication “Singsing” on Bacolor’s glory, doom and rise. It can be read on

What is sure, Crittenden said, is that Bacolor has not been blotted out from memory, as many buried towns had been.

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